Archive for January, 2008

Thursday Links

January 31, 2008 @ 9:18 am | Filed under:

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Journey North Mystery Class

January 30, 2008 @ 7:31 am | Filed under: ,

In yesterday’s links I mentioned with some jubilation that the Journey North Mystery Class is starting this week. Tami asked,

do you know if it’s too late to join the Journey North class? In a
nutshell, can you explain it, and how much time it takes? Thanks!

With the caveat that I am incapable of writing the ‘nutshell’ version of anything (hee!), I’d love to take a stab at answering this. We (Jane and I—the younger kids have not yet been interested) have participated in the Mystery Class the past two years, and it has been delightful.

It is definitely not too late to join. Things are just getting rolling. Here’s how it works: Journey North has selected ten classes of schoolchildren in cities all around the world. Their locations are kept secret until the big reveal in May. These are the ten "mystery classes," and the game is to figure out where in the world they are.

You begin by figuring out their latitudes. Each week you compare your own local photoperiod (the amount of time between sunrise and sunset) to the photoperiods of the ten mystery classes. You graph this data on a chart. In just a few weeks’ time you’ll begin to see patterns and get a feel for where some of the mystery classes might be.

(It’s very exciting.)

Sometime in March, Journey North will release "longitude clues." By performing some calculations, you’ll be able to determine the longitude of the Mystery Classes. Now you’re really starting to have an idea where these classes might be!

Next come the cultural clues. Each week, as you continue to chart the photoperiod data, you’ll be given a set of clues about the culture and terrain of the ten mystery locations. This is when the fun kicks into high gear. You’ll be able to zero in on the specific towns in which the mystery classes are hiding.

In late April, you submit your guesses to Journey North. The following week, the answers are posted on the website and you can see how close you came. You may participate alone or as part of a group. All you have to do is register at the Journey North website (no cost, no strings). All the instructions and clues are there, along with a download of the chart.

The past two years, I led a group of online friends in the activity. We divided up the Mystery Classes so that each family was only responsible for calculating the data for one or two locations. (This is totally permissible and is in fact encouraged. Most participants are classes of schoolchildren who are usually divided into partner groups, each with its assigned mystery class.)

This year, I’m hosting a group of local friends. The kids in Jane’s peer group have been coming over every other week to read Shakespeare together (such a blast), and we’re going to set the Bard aside for a while to do the Mystery Class project together. We’ll be meeting weekly, more or less, to keep up with the data-sharing.

If your family was working solo and found the eleven sets of calculations to be too much to keep up with (ten mystery classes plus your hometown), you could easily drop some of the mystery classes and just work on a few. The registration with Journey North is largely a formality; there is no real interaction on the website except for submitting your answers at the end (which you don’t have to do if you don’t want). Of course, the JN folks love feedback, and they post lots of letters and ideas from participants.

It is amazing how much learning is packed into this activity: we have learned so much about geography, latitude, longitude, other cultures, math, etc etc etc. I cannot say enough good things about the project. I’ve been positively giddy about getting started this year. Jane too. Last year she worked side by side with the one local friend who was part of our online group, and those two eleven-year-olds had a wonderful time, let me tell you. So did their mothers. Right, Erica?

The project is just beginning this week, so it is by no means too late to get started. You calculate your local photoperiod every Monday—that is, you use each Monday’s sunrise and sunset times for the calculation. Here’s a website where you can look up the sunrise and sunset times for any date. Journey North releases the week’s new clues on Fridays, but the info is always up on the website for whenever you are ready to work with it. We’ll be doing all our work on Wednesdays, for example.

Working with online friends was great fun, these past two years. With hometowns spread all over the world, simply comparing our local photoperiods was fascinating. And I have to say, charting the increase in daylight time week after week really helped combat the late winter blues. (The first year, I mean, when we still lived in Virginia. Here in San Diego, last winter was a marvel of sunny days. This year has been quite a bit chillier.)

Tami asked about the time commitment. As you get started, it doesn’t take very long: a math problem on Monday to get your local photoperiod; and then however long it takes you to figure out and chart the photoperiods for the ten mystery classes—or however many you are responsible for. A half hour, perhaps? If you’re doing all ten? Maybe an hour for a younger child? I would say an hour a week is probably realistic, for the first six or seven weeks. The longitude day will take longer, but it’s fun, exciting work.

Later you’ll spend lots of time on Google and elsewhere, reading up on the tidbits revealed in the cultural clues. That’s fun time, detective time, and it flies by.

I told you it wouldn’t fit into a nutshell! Not even a Brazil nut.

Earlier posts on Journey North Mystery Class:
this one has a picture of our graph
this one was from last year

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Miss Mischief

January 29, 2008 @ 11:26 pm | Filed under:


Taking time out from inventing words on the internet to celebrate her sister’s birthday.

(Okay, the birthday was actually last week, but you know what I mean.)

Tuesday Links

January 29, 2008 @ 9:22 am | Filed under:

You Are Going to Love Me for This One

January 28, 2008 @ 7:21 am | Filed under:

But again, I’m just passing on a link I got from someone else—in this case, one of the moms on my local homeschooling email list. This is a real find: a FREE online computer game designed to help kids memorize the multiplication table.

It’s called Timez Attack, and it looks and plays like a "real" computer game. Its creators have designed games for PlayStation, so they’re the real thing. Gameplay is brisk and exciting. There’s a video demo at the website so I won’t bother trying to describe it; you can go get a preview yourself.

You can download a free version or buy a fancier one with more levels, different backgrounds. The free version goes all the way through the times table up to the twelves, so it’s pretty complete. Big hit with my kids, and for Rose and Bean it has been a painless (fun!!) way to drill the times tables (Bean hadn’t started learning them yet, but she’s got a good chunk under her belt now). Very, very cool.

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Love Without Boundaries

January 27, 2008 @ 12:54 pm | Filed under:

Probably the very best thing this blog has ever been a part of was helping to bring a little boy and a loving family together. I don’t get too much credit: my friend Holly would have found her way to Love Without Boundaries sooner or later, without my help. All I did was make the clicking easy. But I’m still awed and proud to have been one little link in the chain.

In September, 2005, I posted about my awesome friend Shelli adopting a little girl from China (as it turns out, this was the first of three adoptions from China for Shelli and her family). Shelli, I wrote, sent me the link to the blog of "a group of American doctors who are spending their vacations performing cleft palate repairs for children in China. The group, Love Without Boundaries,
is a nonprofit volunteer organization that raises funds for medical
procedures needed by children who could otherwise never afford them."

I spent a long time on that blog and got very weepy about the beautiful work being done by the doctors and nurses of LWB. Holly (who, with Shelli, was one of my very first online friends and has been a dear real-life friend these many years) followed the link and she too was overwhelmed by the good work being done by the Love Without Boundaries folks. Holly did a lot more than get weepy. She fell in love with a little boy who has albinism and wound up adopting him. You may perhaps remember Hank’s welcome-home video, which I posted on Lilting House.

(If you missed it, go watch it now. Bring the tissues. My goosebumps have goosebumps.)

Well, I just heard this from Holly:

Facebook is doing something called The Giving Challenge.  Registered
charities sign up on Facebook and for each person that makes a donation
through Facebook, they have a chance to win a $1000 daily prize for the
most donors (not $$$ donated, it’s # of people donating).  Over the 50
days being run, there are grand prizes of $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000
for the charity who has the highest number of donors. 

Love Without Boundaries is participating and has been doing very, very well. They’ve
won the $1000 daily prize several times already.  Right now they are in
line to get a $25,000 grand prize and only about 50 people behind the
leader for the $50,000 prize.  There are only 5 days left in the
competition.  LWB has received over $32,000 through this campaign which
is incredible.   They could do so much work with that extra $50,000 though!   

Here’s the link for donating
. If you aren’t already a Facebook user, you’d need to register first. (And then be sure to read their privacy policy. I highly recommended opting out of Facebook Beacon, which is an option that lets certain other websites send information about your purchases to Facebook. Ick. Easy to opt out on the "my privacy settings" page, though.)

More details from Holly:

LWB is listed on Guidestar for anyone who wants to check them out. They operate with under 3% administrative expenses.  It’s run entirely
by volunteers, no one in the organization is paid a salary.  They truly
do their best to get as much of the $$$ donated spent directly on the

Children like these.